How blind and partially sighted people can share their pandemic experiences with the UK Covid 19 Inquiry
The Covid pandemic affected all aspects of people’s lives, and many blind and partially sighted people were disproportionately impacted. There’s now an important opportunity to share your experiences with the official inquiry into the UK’s response
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been set up to identify what lessons need to be learned from the UK’s response to the pandemic. Recently it held its first public hearings. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on particular groups, including disabled people, is expected to be a theme running throughout its work.
How you can tell the inquiry about your experiences?
A large scale ‘listening exercise’ called Every Story Matters is being run to gather input from anyone who wishes to share how they were affected.
Matt Stringer, RNIB’s Chief Executive Officer, said: ‘This inquiry is a hugely important opportunity for critical lessons to be learned to inform the UK’s response to future pandemics and national crises. The unequal impact of the virus on disabled people must be fully understood. And never again must policy decisions affecting all aspects of people’s daily lives be made without involving blind and partially sighted and disabled people from the very start.
I urge all blind and partially sighted people to take part in the inquiry’s listening exercise if they have experiences they want to share, so that their voices are heard loudly and can shape the inquiry’s future recommendations.’
The main opportunity to take part at present is to submit experiences through a survey form on the inquiry’s website: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/every-story-matters/
The inquiry has said that for those who cannot go online, paper versions of the survey are available by emailing [email protected] or by writing to FREEPOST, UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry. Later this summer it will open a phone line to help people who wish to share their stories by telephone. It will also offer information about how to share your experience in British Sign Language, video, Easy Read, braille and other languages.
To complement the survey, the inquiry plans to hold ‘in person’ events around the UK, with dates and locations to be announced. In addition there will be some piloting of specific activities to reach particular communities, such as residents of care homes.
How blind and partially sighted people were affected
The official data is stark. It shows that rates of death for those with a vision impairment aged 30 to 69 years were 8.4 times higher than for those without any sensory impairment. After adjusting for a range of characteristics, such as age, geography and health, rates of death were still 1.4 times higher than for those without any sight or hearing loss.
Meanwhile changes to the delivery of healthcare during the pandemic contributed to delays in the identification and treatment of eye disease. It’s estimated that nearly 3,000 people lost vision as a result.
Some blind and partially sighted people received inaccessible health information, such as advice on shielding, which they could not read, and it took many months for covid tests to be made accessible. Lockdown and social distancing also had a major and negative impact on blind and partially sighted people’s daily lives, with two thirds of respondents to an RNIB survey in spring 2020 telling us that they felt less independent at that point, compared to before lockdown.
Many people found it difficult or impossible to maintain social distancing, and those reliant on grocery deliveries were suddenly unable to access food because delivery slots were reserved for clinically vulnerable groups at the start of the pandemic. A shocking three quarters of those responding to a survey in April and May 2020 said they were concerned about getting hold of food.
Changes to the layout of streets and the use of pavements for outside dining, for instance, also created new obstacles. For many, there was an increase in feelings of isolation because of more time being spent at home. Many of these changes have since been made permanent.
How will RNIB be involved in the inquiry?
The inquiry is receiving evidence submitted by individuals and organisations, and has the power to make people appear as witnesses and to demand evidence. It is scrutinising a series of topics in turn, called modules, and is expected to hold hearings until at least 2025, with updates and reports being published at intervals as the inquiry proceeds. The first module is on pandemic preparedness, and the next module will be on decision-making.
RNIB will be involved in module three which will look at the impact on healthcare systems, through its membership of the Disability Charities Consortium, a group of nine national charities. Public hearings for this part of the inquiry are expected in autumn 2024.
Other modules will look at the care sector, government procurement and PPE (personal protective equipment), the test and trace scheme, the government's businesses and financial responses, health inequalities, education, children and young people, and other public services.
What about the devolved nations?
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry will look at the handling of the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including ‘reserved’ and devolved matters. However, a separate Inquiry is taking place in Scotland, which will evaluate areas where policy devolved to the Scottish Government. The UK Inquiry says it plans to work with the Scottish Inquiry to avoid duplication of evidence and findings where possible.